What are the basic software tools that are most useful to genealogists? If you have a limited budget what should be your priorities in purchasing software? Obviously, both of these questions are related. If you are going to purchase software, you certainly want to get the most useful programs. Since people vote for software based on usage and purchase, it should be fairly easy to determine the most useful programs. However, that is not necessarily the case.
Let me give a couple of examples. I use a program from Adobe called Photoshop nearly every day. If you were to listen to me, I would tell you that Photoshop is an indispensable program. But there are a couple of things you should know; first, I am a professional level photographer and second, I have been using the program since it was first released. Why is that important to know? If you were to go out and purchase a copy of Adobe Photoshop CS5, the current version, it would cost you around $670 unless you qualify as a student or a teacher and then you might get the program for less than $200. If you purchase the whole CS5.5 Design Standard suite of programs together, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat, Bridge and Device Central, it would cost you more than $1,200. But if you need these programs you pay the price. Can you get it for less? You can buy Photoshop Elements, a program that will do what most people do with photo-editing software for around $80 or less.
Another example, you can use a free software program such as OpenOffice for word processing, or you can use Microsoft Office, which includes Microsoft Word, for about $220. Making conclusions about the type of software genealogists need or use is starting to sound pretty difficult, especially if you talk about different brands of software.
Let me be a little more general rather than specific. I would suggest that three types of programs are essential to a genealogist; a word processing program, a genealogical database and web browser. I am certain that nearly all genealogists, especially those who read this blog, already have all three types of software. Beyond these basic three, I would guess that you would have an e-mail program of some kind, perhaps a spreadsheet program and maybe, a presentation type program. If you use OpenOffice or Microsoft Office, you already have word processing, a presentation program and a spreadsheet.
May I make some further suggestions.
A photo storage and editing program such as Google's Picasa. If you store any images including photographs on your computer, you will enjoy using Picasa. If you want more features and a more powerful program, you might try Adobe Bridge or Light Room. Picasa is free, the Adobe programs are relatively expensive, however Bridge is included with a purchase of Photoshop.
I already mentioned a photo editing program. Although Picasa has some basic tools, if you need more editing power, Photoshop is the ultimate, with a number of other software programs in that same category.
While you are downloading free programs from Google, you might want Google Earth. This is not a complete duplicate of the Google Map program as it contains a huge amount of historical, cultural and other information along with the maps of the earth.
I could go on for days. I usually have a copy of a program that does screen shots and saves them as image files. I use a program called Skitch on the Mac and Irfanview on the PC. Both of these are very useful in saving images off line. I use some of the following programs from time to time or every day depending on the program:
Skype-- for online telephone calls, instant messaging and chat.
Adobe InDesign for document layout, creating maps and producing business cards, brochures etc.
iPhoto for storing photographs.
iTunes for connecting to the Apple Store and for music and iPhone apps.
Evernote for keeping notes on a variety of subjects and synchronizing them between devices.
DropBox for transferring files between computers and other users.
You may want an online service for storing and backing up your data. I hesitate to mention online or cloud computing programs because the offerings seem endless.
Like I said, I could go on and on. If I were on an extremely limited budget, I would still buy the best genealogical database program I could find. I would then make do with free or low cost alternatives in all of the other categories. Just a thought.
In genealogy, I do not what to imply that you couldn't benefit from buying any number of other wonderful programs. If you go to a genealogy conference you might find any number of programs that are irresistible. Please do not think that my mention of any one brand of program is an endorsement. You may find better alternatives. I recently had one of my readers mention a scanning program, VueScan, which I immediately purchased because I needed exactly the features that the program had.